HE HAD BEEN studying the Bible with a member of the church for a few weeks. Even though he was brought up in a religiously devout home, and even though he sincerely believed for many years that he was saved, in light of his recent examination of the Scriptures, he’d come to the unsettling realization that he was, in fact, never saved at all (cf. Prov. 14:12; Jer. 10:23). Yes-he had been sincere, but no-he’d been wrong (cf. Acts 26:9).
He was on his way to the church baptistry to be immersed in accordance with the pattern set forth in the New Testament (Rom. 6:3-4; Acts 8:36-38), but as he was driving down the highway towards his destination, a truck suddenly pulled out in front of him, the two vehicles collided, and he was hurled out of his car and killed.
This is a very popular scenario among our religious friends. Whenever a child of God refers to the necessity of baptism, some antagonists unfurl this revered storyline as though it were Scripture itself. “Are you telling me that Almighty God would consign him to eternal hell just because he wasn’t immersed in water?!”
On the surface, this emotional tragedy-narrative sounds reasonable, but does it, and can it withstand the test of the Word of God (cf. 1 Jn. 4:1; 1 Thes. 5:21; Acts 17:11)? Please consider the following:
God wants EVERYONE to be saved. If you think about it, this oft-told fictional tale is actually an indictment not only of the Word of God, but against God Himself. The under-the-surface theology goes something like this: 1) You claim that God requires baptism, BUT since 2) He didn’t protect this imaginary believing-seeker on his way to the water and allowed him to die in the car accident, then 3) not only is your understanding of the nature and necessity of immersion flawed, but your view of Jehovah is flawed as well.
What our friends fail to realize is that the scenario actually pits God against His own doctrine of baptism–even though immersion was His idea (Mat. 28:19-20), even though He cannot lie (Tit. 1:2), and even though immersion in water is specifically commanded in the New Testament (Acts 10:48) in order to put one into the body Christ (Gal. 3:27; cf. Eph. 5:30).
The truth is, God desires ALL to be saved, and His plan (Eph. 1:4) to save involves an active faith (Jas. 2:14-26) that moves believers to submit to the action of baptism (Acts 22:16)1:
- “For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (Jn. 3:16; cf. vv. 14-15; Num. 21:4-9).
- “Say to them: ‘As I live,’ says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” (Ezek. 33:11a).
- “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish…” (2 Pet. 3:9a).
- “For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires ALL MEN to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4a).
God tells everyone through Scripture exactly HOW to be saved. The inspired Psalmist asked, “How can a young man cleanse his way?” and then answered, “By TAKING HEED to Your (God’s – mb) word” (119:9; cf. Heb. 5:8-9).
This passage implies at least two things: 1) A man can/does sometimes sin and spiritually defile himself (cf. Mat. 15:10-20; Mk. 7:20-23), 2) that faced with this awful dilemma (cf. Isa. 59:1ff), he can go to the Bible (2 Pet. 1:21), be taught (Mat. 28:20; Acts 8:30-31), understand and know (Eph. 5:17), and then submit to (i.e. “take heed to”) God’s gracious will (Tit. 2:11), and in so doing (Acts 2:37ff), be purified by the Lord from his iniquity (cf. Col. 2:12-“working of God”; Eph. 2:8-9; Acts 2:37-38; 16:31-34; 22:16).
Now ponder Psalm 119:9 and then ask yourself one essential question: Can God ever save an individual who never learns, or is taught, Whom to believe in (i.e. Jesus), or how, or what to believe about Him (Heb. 11:7; John 8:24)?
Imagine that a Christian is scheduled to teach a series of five Bible studies to a very moral,2 albeit aged man who has been recently diagnosed with a serious heart problem. In the evening just before their second lesson together, when teacher and student are set to study the subject of faith (cf. Jn. 20:30-31), that elderly man suffers a massive heart attack and dies–without ever having the opportunity to hear the story of Jesus and believe on Him (cf. Acts 11:17; 8:34-39; 16:31). Yes, he learned in the first lesson that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and that the New Testament is the final and only authority (Mat. 28:18; Col. 3:17) in all matters of life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), but no–he wasn’t taught in that initial study the identity or deity of Jesus Christ (cf. Isa. 53:3ff; Acts 8:37) and therefore never had the opportunity to believe on/in Him because his faith was contingent upon hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17; cf. Heb. 11:4, 6-7, 8ff).
Question: Since some take the liberty of removing and omitting BAPTISM from the plan of salvation in order to save the sincere individual who was killed in the car accident, then by this same logic are they not also permitted to remove FAITH from that very same divine plan since the sincere, moral man in the second scenario died of a heart attack before his belief in Jesus? If not, why not? If it’s possible for the Lord to arbitrarily save one man without full obedience (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:9-14)3, then why isn’t it also possible for Him to save another man without any obedient faith (Heb. 11:6)? Ironically, I’ve never heard anyone use the old sincere, moral man scenario and then argue, “What if a sincere, moral person is not yet taught the Whom, what, and how of faith in Jesus,4 but then he dies from a heart attack? Do you mean to tell me God would send this man to eternal hell for not believing?!”
But what did Jesus say, good reader? What did the Lord actually say in His Word about belief as it relates to baptism? NOTE: “He who BELIEVES. . .AND. . .is BAPTIZED will be SAVED…” (Mk. 16:16a). Consider that He did not say, “He who believes will be saved…,” nor did He say, “He who is baptized will be saved…” He said both are necessary (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21; Acts 19:5), and that settles the matter for all time (Psa. 119:89; 172).
God pleads with everyone NOT TO WAIT to be saved. Please pay attention to the following passages and then answer the questions which follow:
- “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38). CONSIDER: If it wasn’t urgent for the Ethiopian nobleman to be baptized, why did he command the chariot to stand still?
- “And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized” (16:33). CONSIDER: If it wasn’t urgent for the jailer and his family to be baptized, why did the Holy Spirit emphasize the fact that they submitted to baptism “immediately?”
- “Now as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, ‘Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning is driving you mad!’” But he said, ‘I am not mad, most noble Festus, but speak the words of truth and reason. For the king, before whom I also speak freely, knows these things; for I am convinced that none of these things escapes his attention, since this thing was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you do believe.’ Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian'” (26:24-28). CONSIDER: If a person is saved at the moment of belief, as some allege in their car accident scenario, then how was Agrippa able say, “You almost persuade me to become a CHRIST-ian?” Webster’s dictionary says “almost” means slightly short of, not quite. How was it possible for Agrippa to believe (v. 26) what the prophets said ABOUT Christ, enjoy all of the spiritual blessings that are uniquely IN Christ (cf. Eph. 1:1b; 3, 10, 12, 20; 2:6, 7, 10, 13; 3:6, 11; 4:15), without having first OBEYED Christ (Mat. 28:18-20), without being IMMERSED INTO Christ (Gal. 3:27; cf. Rom. 7:1-4) and therefore finally being added BY Christ to His church (Acts 2:47)? How was it possible for Agrippa to “not quite” become a Christian and still access Christ?
According to the Bible, if a sincere believing person dies on the way to the baptistry in a car wreck, he’ll still be lost (Mk. 16:15-16; cf. Jn. 7:24; Psa. 119:172) because his obedience was only partial. Then too, if a sincere, moral person dies of a heart attack before he’s taught the truth and has the opportunity to believe, he’ll also be lost. “And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thes. 1:7-8; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Rom. 6:1-4; 17-18).
1 There is no inherit power in the water of baptism itself. Our faith is in the One (Jesus) who requires baptism, not in the water itself.
2 Cornelius is described in Acts as a devout, just, God-fearing, generous, and praying man (Acts 10:1-2, 22), but HE STILL NEEDED to hear words (about Jesus and His will) by which he and household would be saved (11:14). What if that morally upright, religiously devoted man had never heard, believed and obeyed the gospel (10:34-48)? Would he have been saved by his own goodness alone (cf. Isa. 64:6)?
3 HOW MANY times did Naaman have to dip in the Jordan in order to be cleansed of his leprosy?
4 When the people of Israel complained against God and Moses in Num. 21:4ff, and then the Lord sent venomous snakes among the them, WHAT HAPPENED to many of those individuals BEFORE Moses constructed the bronze serpent on the pole and then told them HOW to be saved? Did anybody die before belief? Was any snake-bitten person saved by believing without the action of looking (cf. Jn. 3:14)?